Today we honor our Black History with a story of Queen Yaa Asantewaa; a powerful woman that called on her fellow women and tribe to rise up against a tyrant attempt to possess a symbol of greatness to the Ashanti people. The story of Queen Yaa Asantewaa is one of the most inspiring stories in West African History. This story comes forward as yet another validation that African nations fought against the insatiable appetite of colonialism and psychological manipulation.
The Ashanti War of the Golden Stool is a great story on the meaning of African symbolism and the length that the people who held it sacred were willing to go to protect it. Yaa Asantewaa, the appointed Queen of the Ejisu District in the Ashanti Empire led the revolution against the British to protect the Golden Stool. This is a story of strength and highlights the importance of women in the resistance against British colonialism in Africa. Her influence was so notable, that the war has even been referred to as the “Yaa Asantewaa War” in some cases.
The War of the Golden Stool was one of the last in a series of intense conflicts between the Ashanti people and the British Empire in the early 1900’s. Interestingly, the Ashanti people coexisted peacefully on the coast of what is now known as Ghana for quite some time. However, tensions rose when the British turned that peaceful relationship into a tumultuous one when they attempted to take control of the Ashanti Empire.
The British ascended upon the Ashanti empire with 1,000 soldiers and made a clear message to the Ashanti leaders. In an attempt to break the spirits of the people, the British exiled Ashanti’s King Premph along with other prominent members of government including Yaa Asantewaa’s grandson. They also declared that the governance of their nation would be taken over by an appointee from the Queen of Britain. The British also mandated that they pay the cost of the 1874 war with interest per the Treaty of Formena. Although devastating, the Ashanti people remained resilient through this difficult circumstance. However, the demand from the British governor-general of the Gold Coast to turn over the Golden Stool, the Ark of the Covenant of the Ashanti people brought out a sense of both resilience and anger in the people to defend their sacred possession.
The fragile but remaining Ashanti leadership held a secret meeting on how to bring their King back home. Some were fearful to fight and proposed giving up. Yaa Asantewaa, being a very outspoken woman stood up and said these now famous words when some of the leadership disagreed.
“Now, I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King. If it was in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware I, chiefs would not sit down to see their King to be taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
From that moment forward, she held a prominent role in the War of the Golden Stool against the British Empire. With leadership from Yaa Asantewaa, the Ashanti people staunchly resisted against the British with rebellions for several months. This rebellion was so intense that the British had to send in 1,400 troops to calm the fiery uprising. In the midst of this, Yaa Asantewaa and several of her closest advisors were captured and exiled. Although Yaa Asantewaa died while in exile, King Premph was released from exile, restoring him to his people. Several years later, the Ashanti people became free of British rule, one of the first nations in Sub-Saharan Africa to do so.
Yaa Asantewaa remains a celebrated figure in history and her contributions to the war continue to be celebrated. A woman serving as a key leader in a military leadership capacity was unheard of during this time, especially for the British. She also relied on the strength of the woman of her empire, sending an empowering message for generations to come that women coming together is a powerful thing.
The War of the Golden stool and Queen Yaa Asantewaa story serves as a reminder and an example for all of us. The oppressors wanted to control the Ashanti people; a group they had no current success concurring completely. They knew if they could control the Gold Stool they would be able to break something in the people who cherished it. Certain leaders even considered the request but that’s when Queen Yaa Asantewaa took a stand and basically said, “Over My Dead Body”!!! Even today, we must be mindful of what others ask of us, what is being scarified and when must we must take a stand. What is our Golden Stool?